By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — On a night where forward Lauren Jackson and head coach Brian Agler were honored as individuals, the Seattle Storm celebrated as a team, defeating the Phoenix Mercury 82-74 in Game 1 of the WNBA’s Western Conference Finals.
Game 2 of the Western Conference finals is at noon on Sunday at US Airways Center in Phoenix.
Before the game, Jackson was honored with the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player award, and Agler was presented the Coach of the Year award. It was Jackson’s third such honor and Agler’s first.
Jackson certainly played like an MVP on Thursday. She led all scorers with 23 points and grabbed a Storm playoff record 17 rebounds.
“From the middle of the first quarter on into the second, she really did some damage inside,” Agler said.
Jackson had 17 points and 12 rebounds by halftime.
“In the first half she really went after the basketball,” Agler said.
As has been a theme all season for the Storm, it was the defense that really was the difference in the game. Most notably, the Storm held the league’s leading scorer, Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi, to just nine points, nearly 15 points below her 23.8 points per game average. Taurasi shot a dismal 2-for-15 from the field.
“We have a lot of versatility on the defensive end,” Storm point guard Sue Bird said. “We can switch, we can defend different looks. We just tried to keep them guessing as much as possible.”
“Last time I saw this from Diana was in 2007 — I think it was a game in Detroit,” Mercury head coach Corey Gaines said. “Next game she came out and had thirty-something. I’m not worried about it. It’s gone, it’s over. She doesn’t have any more of those. It happens.”
Taruasi appeared frustrated by her shooting struggles for much of the second half, and fouled out of the game with a hard foul on Tanisha Wright with 54 seconds remaining in the game.
“I couldn’t make a shot. I never blame the defense on missing shots. I had some really good looks, which I usually knock down, but tonight they didn’t go down. Hopefully on Sunday I can get it together a little bit,” Taurasi said.
Bird doesn’t expect Taurasi to have a repeat of Thursday’s performance.
“I expect her to come out guns-a-blazing the next game. So we have that to look forward to,” Bird said jokingly.
The Storm set the tone against Phoenix in the first quarter. They started the game on a 17-3 to run, which was highlighted by five points each by Jackson and Svetlana Abrosimova.
Abrosimova was one of only two players to get off the bench for the Storm, but she made the most of it, shooting 5-for-9 from the field and chipping in 16 points for Seattle.
“Svetlana really came in and gave us a boost,” Agler said.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Abrosimova said. “Obviously when you come off the bench you see what’s going on and as soon as I got in there I was trying to help my team. You feel a lot better when you hit your first shot. You get the energy from the fans and keep rolling.”
Le’coe Willingham was the other reserve for the Storm to see action. She had 10 points and six rebounds.
The Storm continued to build their lead in the second quarter as Jackson added nine more points and the team made adjustments to Phoenix’s zone. Seattle had built a 47-33 lead by halftime.
“We just had to get better ball movement, play both sides of the floor, reverse it,” Agler said. “They put a lot of size out there and take things away. But we have to find out what we can get. It’s like anything, the defense is going to take things away from you, but they’re also going to give you something. It’s a puzzle and you have to figure it out.”
Despite Taurasi’s struggles, the Mercury outscored the Storm 41-35 in the second half, but never got to within more than four points of Seattle.
“Tough shooting night for us, we couldn’t score,” Gaines said. “They’re a great defensive team. It was one of those nights.”